Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Killer Joe

Title: Killer Joe
Director: William Friedkin
Released: 2011
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church, Marc Macaulay

Plot: When small time drug dealer Chris (Hirsch) finds himself in debt to the local mob boss he concocts a plan to murder his mother for the insurance money. While he believes he has the perfect plan, things only get more complex when he decides to hire the services of Joe Cooper (McConaghey) a corrupt police detective with a side line in contract killing.


Review: It’s safe to say that there is a large portion of the movie going community who would like to believe that Mathew McConaughey only really became an actor of note after his Oscar winning performance in “The Dallas Buyers Clubs” or if they are alittle more indie cinema loving “Mud”. I would however question this opinion as here years earlier we have him giving a highly memorable turn as the soft spoken psychopath of the title in a role which proved that he was capable of more than just being the pretty boy leading man. For one reason or another film though it appears to have been largely forgotten by those same movie going masses, even despite having a director of Friedkin’s calibre in the director’s chair.

Based on the play by Tracy Letts who is no doubt best known to “Homeland” fans as Andrew Lockhart and who also wrote the screenplay in the second of his collaborations after the psychological horror “Bug”. While I haven’t seen the original play here he crafts with Friedkin a deliciously dark slice of southern fried American gothic with this tale of a simple plan screwed up by stupid people with bloody results.

Opening with a frustrated Chris confiding his plan with his father Ansel who is equally enthused with the idea of killing his ex-wife for a seemingly easy payday, this is of course after we have been greeted by the sight Gina Gershon’s nether regions and this is the opening five minutes! Still surprise nudity aside it soon becomes clear that none of the characters are especially nice people as they reside in grotty mobile homes and care little for anything other than their own personal agendas.

From his initial introduction McConaughey is completely mesmerising as the soft spoken psychopath of the title, whose methodical nature and list of personal rules he has created for himself makes for an interesting comparison to the other characters, who are largely disorganised and undisciplined. It’s also Chris’s failure to be able to provide the financial retainer Joe requires, which soon see his naive and childlike sister Dottie (Temple) being unwittingly drawn into the scheme when Joe takes an interest in her and takes her as his retainer instead. Dottie is also the light in this dark tale with her innocence and childlike behaviour coming off like a defence against the world around her.

The plot is largely straightforward with the occasional twist thrown in to keep things interesting with the majority of these kept for the final act, while Friedkin instead deals with the issue Chris is faced with now he has chosen to make a deal with the devil and the outcome of his actions, especially with Joe now getting involved with Dottie and showing no interest in leaving the family trailer until he gets his payment. Of course it is only further credit to McConaughey that he manages to instil such a feeling of dread whenever he is on the screen even though he isn’t doing anything more threatening than sitting at the family table.

Friedkin showed a strict dedication to his vision for the film, even going so far as to refuse to edit the film to obtain a lower rating believing that “Cutting would not have made it mass appeal” which proved to be certainly the right decision, for while the film certainly has its moments of graphic violence and a much discussed sequence involving a piece of fried chicken, it never feels as it is being done in an exploitative way. Instead here Friedkin uses his experience as a director to carefully choose his moments in which to unleash these moments, with the majority coming at the finale where he unleashes the pent up rage his characters have been building over the course of the film, the only other moment of violence coming when Chris is forced to confront the local mob boss over money owed and finds himself on the end of a cautionary beatdown. Again while intense it perfectly serves to remind the audience of the Chris’s desperation to find the required funds which forced him to concoct this ill-fated scheme in the first place.

What I really loved about this film though is that while most movies of this kind see at least one character of some intelligence orchestrating the plot, here we have a plot being carried out by a group of idiots whose lack of planning soon proves to be their undoing, while their attempts to rectify the situation only continue to make things increasingly worse, leading up to a bloody finale when everything truly reaches breaking point. Thanks to the great cast assembled here though the film never falls into the trap of becoming farcical in its portrayal of these characters and their frequently misguided decisions.  

While this film might fall outside of Friedkin’s golden period as a director which saw him helming films like The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer, here he finally appears to have found his mojo again after a worryingly long time in the directorial wilderness. Here he takes a simple tale and turns it into something truly special even if it seems that it remains one of his films to be discovered rather than treated to praise it rightfully deserves. I can only hope that this is the kind of film which finds its audience later especially when it deserves to ranked alongside the likes of “No Country For Old Men” and “Winter’s Bone”.

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